I’ve thrown out my back. I’m constantly see-sawing between excessively caffeinated and impossibly tired. My old clothes don’t fit anymore. And I’m convinced that the tune to “Elmo’s Song” will forever crowd out more important thoughts from my brain.
Some of the hazards of becoming a parent I knew about long before our toddler, Sasha, was born in 2017; other parents had warned us, offering useful advice in advance. I’m now doing exercises for my bad back, for example, and we invested in a king-sized mattress so we could co-sleep, which is giving us more rest than we ever got “sleep training.” (I’m still trying to get rid of that Sesame Street earworm and “dad bod.”)
I was completely unprepared, however, for the daily humiliation I’d have to endure doing something I had successfully avoided for most of my life: singing.
It all began with my wife, Ariane, who sings and plays the violin beautifully. She would sing “Rockabye Baby” to Sasha every night before bed. So, as I was rocking her down one night and she was resisting sleep, I decided to try crooning the traditional tune “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby.” She immediately stopped fussing and laid her head on my shoulder.
Now, whenever Sasha is distressed or needs sleep, songs from Daddy will, in their atonal glory, always calm her. But I find my out-of-tune melodies jarring and embarrassing.
I grew up in a somewhat musical house. My mom taught me piano and my dad insisted I learn basic guitar chords and how to string the instrument before he would spend money on lessons. I have played music as a serious hobby for decades, and I enjoy noodling around on any instrument and reading about music theory. Singing, however, was never really a part of my musical education.
That means I can hear very clearly how flat I am when I try to hit that major-sixth interval at the beginning of “Rockabye Baby.” I know that I have to hover around a pitch before I can match it vocally, as if I needed to explore the tones above and below that pitch to make sure I’m in the right place.
I used to feel completely clueless and self-conscious every time I sang — even when I was in the car by myself! But parenting is all about embracing what you don’t know and learning it together with your child. Plus, Sasha wants those songs at night and they’re not going to sing themselves.
So now I suggest to Sasha melodies that are easier for me to sing and I practice them over and over with her falling asleep on my shoulder. As it turns out, “Elmo’s Song” isn’t too hard.
Being forced out of my comfort zone has made me less shy about singing in public, too.
On Tuesday mornings, I now find myself singing for an hour straight with other parents and their children in the phenomenal Northampton Community Music Center program Music Together. And I realize that nobody is judging me when I sing. I’m not even sure I’d care if they were!
Getting that Elmo tune out of my head, though, is now out of the question.